Israel bullying ill Palestinians to spy

Human rights activists say Israel is pressuring Palestinians seeking medical treatment in Israel to act as informants.
Bassam Waheidi, a Gaza resident, is slowly going blind. He says he refuses to spy for Israel in exchange for medical treatment.
Bassam Waheidi, a Gaza resident, is slowly going blind. He says he refuses to spy for Israel in exchange for medical treatment.

JERUSALEM // Israeli security agents have let dozens of Palestinians from Gaza seeking medical treatment into Israel on condition that act as informants, a human rights report said on Monday. Physicians for Human Rights documented the cases of 32 Palestinians, including some with terminal illnesses, who said they were denied entry into Israel for medical examinations after refusing security agents' appeals at the border to inform against Gaza militants.

The report said the number of Gazans seeking care in Israel has more than doubled since Hamas seized power in Gaza last year. An Israeli-led boycott of the coastal enclave since then has led to a deterioration in Gaza's health services and its main crossing with Egypt has been largely closed. But applicants for treatment in Israel were being turned away in proportionately greater numbers by security agents at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, the report said.

It said Israel had permitted about 65 per cent of Palestinians seeking medical care to cross this year, compared to 90 per cent of those who sought treatment in January 2007. Physicians for Human Rights said some Gazans seeking treatment in Israel were questioned by security agents for hours, and missed critical medical appointments. The report said that "interrogators propose to patients directly and openly to collaborate and/or provide them with information on an ongoing basis".

Once an agent "has established control over a patient, permitting medical treatment is explicitly or implicitly made contingent upon collaboration," said the report, adding that the practice violated the Geneva Conventions. The Associated Press interviewed two of the 32 independently, Gaza residents Bassam Waheidi and Shaban Abu Obeid. Mr Waheidi, a 28-year-old radio reporter, said he developed a visual problem last August, and Palestinian doctors in Gaza referred him for urgent treatment in Israel.

Mr Waheidi says at the Erez border crossing, where Gaza residents pass into Israel, he was led by armed men in civilian clothes to a man sitting behind a desk in an underground room. Mr Waheidi said in an hours-long interrogation session, he was asked about militants who fire rockets at Israel. He said he refused to provide information, and said he did not know much anyway. "I work on women's issues, social affairs and worker's rights," the radio reporter said.

Mr Waheidi says Israel has not granted him a permit since. He said he has since gone blind in his right eye and is losing sight in the other. Mr Abu Obeid, a 38-year-old public worker, said he frequently went to Israel for years for heart treatment. He had a pacemaker installed at an Israeli hospital. He is a Fatah loyalist, bitter rival of Hamas. But when Mr Abu Obeid applied last August for a permit to enter Israel to check on his pacemaker, he said an intelligence official offered him a tough choice.

"He said, 'Let's make a deal. You give me information, and I'll make it easy for you to go Israel'," Mr Abu Obeid said. Mr Abu Obeid refused, and he said Israel has not given him a permit since. Instead, he hopes to have his heart and pacemaker checked by a team of Arab doctors from Israel who make rare visits to Gaza to screen patients. This is not the first time such allegations have been raised, and Israel has always denied them.

"There is no conditioning whatsoever between receiving an entry permit to Israel for humanitarian purposes and the willingness of that individual to provide information of any sort, aside from about his medical condition," the source said. Ehab al-Ghsain, a spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip, accused Israel of "exploiting" Palestinians in need of urgent care. "It is not a new method for the Zionist occupation," he said, referring to Israel. "We warn citizens not to succumb to these temptations and to report to the authorities."

*Reuters and AP

Published: August 4, 2008 04:00 AM

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